In the shadow of what once was the Twin Towers,
routine inspections call for scaffolding:
a forest of cross trees and a canopy
of corrugated tin above the busy street.
Claws earning purchase on wet steel,
a squirrel braves the bars,
and disappears beneath a rusted gap.
He crumples napkins, fast food wrappers
scavenged from the filthy curb,
balances each one in his mouth,
and scampers, half-blind, back up to his nest.
He leaves the night time sidewalk to the rats,
and sleeps secure ten feet above.
Of course, he can’t know about the towers,
about Philippe Petit
who spun a single spider strand and balanced in the air,
about George Willig,
his feet in fragile clamps, scaling the face,
becoming “the human fly.”
But then, the passersby who watched transfixed
could not know of the airplanes still to come,
the bodies that would cartwheel from the flames.
The squirrel doesn’t care at all for daring or destruction,
takes comfort in monotony and detritus,
constructing his careful nest that won’t outlast the scaffold.
And we, who build our havens in the sky,
we, too, must be content
with moments that stir or break the heart,
or simply warm the fur awhile.
John MacLean’s poetry collection, The Long Way Home, is published by Cayuga Lake Books. His book on teaching, If you Teach it, they will Read, is published by Rowan and Littlefield. Before becoming a teacher, he worked in a freighter’s galley, a gypsum mill, and a district attorney’s office. He and his wife of 43 years live in Croton New York, having raised four daughters.